Sunday, November 27, 2011

Aunt Kate - The Funeral Crasher

It all began with this photograph of my mother's ancestors.

The picture was in my brother's possession for many years. As I have become the keeper of family history he gifted it to me last year. Spending time with the photograph several interesting features captured my attention.

The little boy standing in the middle (great-uncle William) reminds me of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Looking closer he does not seem thrilled about the entire process! Might be those ruffles making him less than happy with his attire.

The second thing I found curious was the young woman wearing light attire. Everyone else is wearing dark clothing and look rather somber.

Mom identified the woman as her aunt Kate and stated she marched to her own drummer. As the conversation progressed just how "interesting" aunt Kate was during her lifetime became clear.

This all came to light while chatting with Mom about her early memories in Baltimore City, Maryland.

One story that always makes me a wee bit uncomfortable is how Mom's relatives were laid out in the front parlor when they passed away. The family placed a black wreath on the front door to let everyone know they were grieving a loved one.

Shortly afterwards family and friends would gather for the wake. Everyone would come bearing food and sympathy. Many times offering to help with the younger children of the house.

Tell the truth when I was younger the parlor of my grandmother's house was not a favorite!

As we talked about this custom Mom remembered the story of her aunt Kate. At first I was certain I misunderstood the information being presented. Asking Mom to repeat what she just shared I realized that my great-aunt Kate was a funeral crasher!

Seems whenever Kate saw a black wreath she proceeded home and changed into her best funeral attire. Off she would go to pay her respects and visit with the family of the deceased. Only problem, many times she did not know the parties involved!

Now you see why I had to ask Mom to repeat this story. After I gained my composure I asked why Kate would engage in this type of behavior. Did she show up for the food, was she trying to discover interesting gossip, or was she lonely.

The answer to all these questions was a resounding NO! Seems my sweet great-aunt loved to comfort people in their time of need. Even if they were strangers she would offer condolences and support.

Listening to my mother tell the story made me realize how important it is to capture every memory. Making time to sit with her asking questions has uncovered many interesting stories.

Whether Kate was eccentric or kind-hearted this tale makes me smile. Don't we love finding these gems in our family tree?


  1. I love the characters in our tree! They are the best. Your Kate certainly qualifies, I find her mesmerizing.

  2. What a great story. Like you, I thought maybe Aunt Kate was after the free food. Turns out she was just tender hearted. What a great tale to pass down through the generations!

  3. I love this story. The world needs more Aunt Kates...there to help whenever they can. What a good story to pass down!

  4. Listening to your Mom is also a good reminder for us not to impose our modern impressions on the actions of others. Too bad more people today aren't like your Aunt Kate.

  5. Thanks for the comments about Aunt Kate. Listening to Mom talk about her was such a treat. There are other lovely stories about this interesting lady that will always be kept in the family.

    Marian-wonderful observations! Our modern day outlook does color how we sometimes perseve past events. That is why it was so vital to hear this story from my mother. As I travel this genealogy road the lessons learned from more experienced family researchers are priceless!

  6. What a wonderful story! You are so fortunate to have been able to talk with your mom to get the scoop on Aunt Kate's behavior.

  7. In Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels, her grandmother attends funerals whenever possible. Her motivation is mostly social. The funerals attended are a recurring theme in the books. I always found the theme a bit unbelievable; but, perhaps not!

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating story! It is always amazing what you learn when you ask.

  8. This just put a smile on my face. My mother doesn't miss a "black" wake or funeral in Kansas City Kansas. She shows up on stranger's doorstep with a brisket in hand, attends wakes at random and greets the mourning family as if acquainted. She can concoct the most far-out relations of the deceased or the grieving. But, there's always a connection, albeit 6 degrees of separation.

  9. My great-grandmother often went to the funeral home when she didn't know the deceased. Her reason - she might see someone she knew from "out in the country." She grew up in a rural area of the county which was just a few miles from town but she didn't drive so she would walk two blocks to the funeral home to see if anyone she knew happened to be there paying their respects.

  10. How lovely! A wonderful woman, your great aunt Kate. I agree. We need more like her!

  11. Thanks for the wonderful comments! I agree, Aunt Kate was an amazing lady! Mom lights up when she talks about her favorite ancestor!

  12. What a wonderful story! Great Aunt Kate reminded me of Stephanie Plum's grandmother, too. She sounds like a charitable woman. Makes me wish I could have known her.

  13. What an interesting story. Thanks so much for sharing!